a review by the Crow.
Every once in a while — in everyone’s life — comes along a work (or works) of art that evokes a deep personal response (individuals with certain mental issues notwithstanding). For me, it just so happens that I came across one such work of art when I was only three years old.
Of course, the response wasn’t developed then. It was only on a rewatch some ten or so years ago that it hit me. That work of art was an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and it was called The Inner Light.
From the moment that the Azure-Winged Magpie conceived our Star Trek Month(s) — which thereafter became our Star Trek Celebration — I knew that I wanted to end our festivities with this. Of course, I shall be publishing a review of the tomorrow’s Star Trek: Discovery episode, and shall also review the two episodes following it this season, and review the seasons that follow those.
But Discovery is an ongoing show. As far as our “Celebration” is concerned, I’d like to consider that The Inner Light is where it ends. That said, this will not be so much of a review as it will be an ode to what I consider to be one of the finest works of storytelling ever committed to the small screen.
Star Trek The Next Generation S05E25
The Inner Light
SPOILER LEVELS at MAJOR
The Inner Light starts rather innocently.
The Enterprise (NCC-1701-D) comes upon a relatively unsophisticated probe of unknown origin while on a routine research survey. The probe scans the ship, and even though the Enterprise‘s shields are up, the probe manages to direct a beam of “unusual energy” at Captain Picard (Sir Patrick Stewart). In response to coming into contact with the beam, Picard passes out, and the crew are left to deal with the problem of the probe tethering itself to their captain.
But what happens aboard the Enterprise is not important to us. Why is that? — you might ask. The answer is simple: it’s because the Enterprise does not exist.
Enter Kamin (Patrick Stewart) — a name I’ve evidently been misspelling in my mind for two decades, now (thank you, imdb). He is an “iron weaver” who’s been severely ill for some time, now. His wife Eline (Margot Rose — who is excellent, here) calms him down, and explains to the confused Kamin that his fever must have affected his mind.
There is no starship, no Jean-Luc Picard. There is only Kataan — the planet that they live on. And Kataan is suffering from severe ecological troubles. Kamin’s close friend Batai (Richard Riehle) — the community leader of Ressik, the community where Kamin lives — and Eline spend time helping Kamin recover from his episode. Through bowls of “delicious” soup and other remedies, they try to return Kamin to what is normal, here. And yet, Kamin thinks his name is Jean-Luc Picard. He believes he’s the captain of a “Federation starship” — words alien to the people of Kataan. And more importantly: he thinks he might be a prisoner.
Over the years that Kamin lives in Ressik, he is haunted by these vivid memories of this fictional life he led. But he slowly grows to understand that it was all — most likely — a fantasy, and starts working on his life on Kataan. He raises a family with Eline, even grows to become a grandparent, and comes to the conclusion that the planet is doomed. Through a combination of Kafkaesque bureaucracy and a more straightforward case of their technology not being advanced enough, there is no hope left for Kataan. Not even for a small sample of their people to be saved.
The ecological disasters plaguing Kataan are accelerating, not only will Kamin’s grandchildren be poorer for the state of the planet that they’ve been left to, but they might be the last to live on the planet.
And that is where I’ll leave the recap.
There is something so elegantly simple about the story that’s being told in The Inner Light. It’s one of the things that make SF as a genre so intensely interesting to me: the ability to take a fantastical situation and weave a human story into it — to use lies to tell the truth. This episode takes what seems to be an innocent — routine — incident and turn it into an argument about how we perceive our limited lives. And the episode attacks this concept on a scale far beyond what the preceding sentence might suggest: it’s not about one man. It’s about the populace of an entire planet.
Where Gul Madred, and the Borg, failed to break Jean-Luc Picard, Kamin is ‘broken’ through kindness and love. There is another episode of The Next Generation where Picard sees through false love, but that instinct of his doesn’t apply here, because Eline’s love for Kamin is genuine. He might be considered a prisoner from an objective viewpoint, but he’s more of a tenant — a settler of Kataan (please forgive the dad-level joke).
There is no need for Treknobabble at the core of the story, here. The core needs little fantastical technology to work. In this day and age, living on a planet we are killing (the damage we’ve caused to the ecosystem is much worse than usually reported), The Inner Light is more topical than ever.
Not only is it a look at the inevitable end of all things as we know them, but it’s a look at what might become of us if we continue to walk down the path we’re on. We have no access to biological immortality (although my mate’s trying), and we’re beyond the cusp of recovering the home we had a few decades ago (and might lose unless we take action right now).
I shan’t give away much more about this episode. I will say that the team working on the make-up for the episode failed to see that Sir Patrick Stewart would remain as debonair as ever into his golden years. I will say that this episode highlights how much hurt could be caused by the episodic nature of The Next Generation (although I hope the new ‘Picard’ series does not return to this outside of a mention). I will say that the inclusion of Daniel Stewart in the episode makes it ring a lot truer to the heart of the story. And finally, I will admit that while I can be a softie for emotional beats in visual media, this episode makes me go through a full stack of kitchen towels quicker than a starved pig through bone.
(Be wary of any man who keeps a pig farm.)
At the end, there is just a man and his flute, with a lifetime of pain embedded into his mind forever. It might not matter for the series finale we were given, but this could have worked as a finale for the series as a whole. There is something inherently heartbreaking about the ending that would ring the emotional strings in those of us in tune with them.
At this point, I would like to mention our two short stories based around the theme of ‘loss’: The Lighthouse by Joe Butler, and The Third Time Around by Charles Arthur. They ring the same strings that I’ve just mentioned.
There is no Picard. No Kamin. No Enterprise. No Kataan. There is only a flute and a tune: a tune that will leave you haunted due to the implications it carries.
And that is the highest recommendation I can give a work of art: any work of art that leaves one with a feeling is powerful. Schindler’s List and Twelve Years a Slave left me seething. The Party left me smiling. Dunkirk left me hopeful. And The Inner Light leaves me broken, just as it leaves Picard.
The Inner Light is my go-to episode when I recommend Star Trek to anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure. It is a work of art, as simple as it might seem off-the-cuff. It comes with the highest recommendation — and regard — from all of us involved on The Corvid Review.
And this is where I shall leave you.
Among the other episodes I would have considered — if, in some universe, I had already reviewed The Inner Light prior to our “Star Trek Celebration” — were:
- The Best of Both Worlds (Parts 1 and 2)
- The Chain of Command (Parts 1 and 2) — starring Gul Madred
- The Drumhead (which I’m seriously considering writing an article about, soon)
These are my go-to Picard-at-his-best episodes. I would like to recommend these episodes almost as much as I am The Inner Light.
I apologise if this review seems so curt, but I want you to watch it and experience it for yourself. There are sometimes no vicarious ways to know a work of art. Sometimes, art must be experienced, and that is what I would like to suggest you do.
Before I leave you, a little bit more: while looking up the episode to make sure I got everything right, I came across this following video.
— Crow out.
THE CROW: 9/10
THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE: 8.5/10
THE SPOTTED NUTCRACKER: 10/10
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